Judge Rejects Padilla Torture Argument
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 4:47 PM
MIAMI -- A federal judge refused to dismiss terrorism charges against a suspected al-Qaida operative over claims he was tortured in U.S. military custody, but the possibility that the allegations could resurface at his upcoming trial was left open.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said Jose Padilla's torture allegations could become relevant during his trial if prosecutors seek to use evidence gathered from him during his 3 1/2 years in isolation at a Navy brig.
"Should any Naval Brig statements be introduced at trial ... the circumstances surrounding the making of those statements may be relevant and hence admissible," Cooke wrote in a 12-page ruling filed late Monday.
The ruling removes one of the biggest remaining obstacles to the start of the trial next Monday for Padilla and two co-defendants charged with conspiracy and terrorism material support for allegedly being part of a North American support network for Islamic extremist groups worldwide.
Cooke's order stressed that she was not passing judgment on the torture allegations. Rather, she said the effort to dismiss the case for "outrageous government conduct" was faulty on legal grounds.
Padilla's lawyers claim that as an "enemy combatant" he was routinely subjected to harsh treatment and torture during the time he was held.
He claimed that he was forced to stand in painful stress positions, given LSD or some other drug as a "truth serum," subjected to loud noises and noxious odors, and forced to endure sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold and harsh lights.
To support their claims, his attorneys released brig photographs of Padilla in chains and wearing blacked-out goggles and noise-reducing ear coverings.
The Pentagon and Justice Department have repeatedly denied those claims. Officials with the brig in Charleston, S.C., have said the 36-year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim convert was not mistreated, though they acknowledged occasional removal of the mattress in his cell and of his copy of the Quran.
In her ruling, Cooke said the dismissal motion wasn't backed up by case law and failed on legal grounds because prosecutors aren't using any evidence collected during Padilla's time in the brig.
To rule otherwise would "effectively provide a defendant with amnesty for any uncharged crime so long as the government violated the defendant's due process rights at some prior point," she wrote.
Prosecutors have said they cannot use most of what Padilla told them during interrogations because they were conducted without a lawyer present and Padilla was never told of his Miranda right to remain silent.
Padilla's four lawyers did not respond to e-mail messages seeking comment Tuesday. The Justice Department and Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta declined comment.
Cooke had ruled earlier that Padilla was competent to stand trial despite conclusions from defense mental health experts that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his years in military custody.
"The government is breathing a big sigh of relief," said David O. Markus, a prominent Miami defense lawyer not involved in the case. "The last thing it wanted were these allegations aired in open court."
Padilla was initially arrested in 2002 on suspicion of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city, but that charge is not part of the Miami criminal case. Prosecutors do claim that Padilla filled out a form in 2000 to join an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.
Padilla and co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi each have pleaded not guilty and face the possibility of life in prison if convicted.